THE HINDU EDITORIAL : September 26,2017


  1. a) Merkel’s world

          Angela Merkel’s return for a fourth consecutive term as Chancellor, with a much-reduced mandate for her Christian Democratic Union, marks a watershed moment in Germany’s post-War history. For the first time since 1949, a far-right nationalist party, the Alternative for Germany (Afd), is in the Bundestag, posing a potentially bracing challenge to Berlin’s predominant political creed of consensus and compromise. With her natural instinct for caution and pragmatism, Ms. Merkel embodied such a stance, one that was seen as a national trait assiduously cultivated to definitively turn the page on the country’s Nazi past. There is ample evidence of these qualities at work in Ms. Merkel’s remarkably long tenure, which led her to embrace Social Democratic Party policies on minimum wages, at times to the chagrin of her ally in the grand coalition. To be sure, this seemingly anodyne approach came under sharp attack for its ideological ambiguity, but it was a tactic that Ms. Merkel deftly deployed to blunt the opposition. It is, however, nearly impossible to accuse the Chancellor of pandering to the extreme right, so characteristic of the centre-right leadership in several European states in the face of the populist surge against the expansion of the EU and globalisation. The 8-plus percentage point plunge in support for the incumbent CDU and its Bavarian ally over 2013, combined with the all-time low returns for the Social Democratic Party, is a measure of the erosion of the middle ground. This shift in fortunes is all the more telling given the widespread perception that Germans have never had it so good in terms of economic well-being and political stability. A possible explanation of the nature of the verdict is also that the grand coalition between the archrivals, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, pushed voters in search of an alternative at the extreme. A mocking reference of the blurred ideological divisions within the alliance was that there were two SDPs in Germany. Nonetheless, the fact that there has been a steady decline in support for the two major mainstream forces — from about 90% in the 1970s to about 50% — reflects the steady fragmentation of the polity. Conversely, the gains for the AfD follow its capture of the vote in more than 10 states in regional elections. The implication of the verdict is a possible ‘Jamaica coalition’ among the CDU, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, given the Social Democrats’ likely choice to serve as an opposition. There has been speculation that Ms. Merkel, who has defied the recent record of Europe’s politicians even in terms of sheer longevity in office, would look to consolidating her legacy. Revitalising the rules-based post-War liberal world order, one that she committed to as a counter to President Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ agenda, could not be more urgent. Even a year ago, she may have little imagined that her victory would come as such a relief, domestically and globally.

  1. b) Diary of a very long year

         “The surgical strike was a point we wanted to drive home, that the Line of Control is not a line that cannot be breached. When we want to, we will be able to breach it, go across and strike when we need. This was the message we wanted to convey and we did,” Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu, the Northern Army Commander, stated in a recent press conference at his headquarters in Udhampur.

The big picture

It has been one year since the special forces of the Indian Army carried out surgical strikes to destroy terror launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29, 2016. It is important to take stock at this point on how India-Pakistan bilateral relations and the regional security situation have evolved over the past year since the strikes. Showing no appetite for a bilateral rapprochement, the two acrimonious neighbours have limited their interactions to firing across the borders in Jammu and Kashmir and calling each other names in global forums. At the United Nations General Assembly a few days ago, for instance, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj termed Pakistan a “pre-eminent exporter of terror” — to which Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, responded: “India is the mother of terrorism” in South Asia. The future direction of the foremost regional forum, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), remains unclear after India dropped out of the 2016 Islamabad summit in the wake of the Uri terror attack. (The summit was eventually postponed.) The regional security situation remains embattled, thanks to confused American policies in South Asia, continuing turmoil in Afghanistan, heightening India China rivalry, and the India Pakistan hostility.

Regional stability

From a regional stability point of view, the surgical strikes do not seem to have had much of an adverse impact. The fact that Pakistan neither acknowledged the attacks nor responded in kind shows that the general deterrence between the South Asian nuclear rivals remains intact. It is easy to talk about nuclear use and threaten nuclear retaliation, as Pakistan has been doing for long. It is, however, not easy to translate such talk into action. In that sense, the surgical strikes have called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. And that certainly is good news for regional stability. But such higher-level stability seems to have come with heightened lower-level instability — and that is the bad news. There are two sets of challenges that are more apparent today, one year after the surgical strikes. One, the India-Pakistan escalation ladder has become far more precarious today it has ever been in the past one and a half decades, i.e. since the ceasefire was agreed to in 2003. The recurrent, and almost daily, occurrence of border battles between the two militaries in Jammu and Kashmir today have a worrying potential for escalation to higher levels. The border standoffs often lead to, as is evident from the data from the past 15 years, military, political and diplomatic escalation as well as contribute to escalating an ongoing crisis. While this was common even prior to the surgical strikes, the September 2016 operation has made ceasefire violations more worrisome in at least two ways: first, Pakistan has been retaliating ever since the surgical strikes by increasing the pressure on the frontlines; and second, surgical strikes have reduced the critical distance between ceasefire violations and conventional escalation. While stealthy surgical strikes may not, strictly speaking, qualify as conventional escalation, they certainly reduce the psychological distance between sub-conventional violence and conventional escalation in the classical sense. That sure is bad news for regional stability. The second challenge is more practical than theoretical. Conventional escalation as discussed in the academic/policy literature tends to put too much emphasis on pre-conceived and war-gamed escalation scenarios. However, surgical strikes could easily offset the logic behind such familiar and analytically elegant scenarios. The perils of preventive strikes, in other words, are unpredictable. Preventive strikes are pregnant with immense potential to lead up to a ‘competition in risk-taking’, a tendency already prevalent on the frontlines of the India-Pakistan border in J&K. Put differently, preventive strikes in hyper-nationalist bilateral settings could defy our expectations and go out of control, with disastrous implications.

Deteriorating environment

Have the surgical strikes helped the country’s overall national security environment? The Central government argues that surgical strikes have been a spectacular success. Notwithstanding the more conceptual challenges I have explained above, let’s try and break down this claim to see if indeed surgical strikes have improved our national security in plain practical terms. The first obvious question to ask is whether the strategy of punishment has worked vis-à-vis Pakistan. There are two reasons why the strategy of punishment may not have worked. For one, a strategy of punishment requires consistency and commitment. The momentum achieved by the surgical strikes was not followed up (despite several attacks thereafter), nor was the government committed to its declared determination to respond firmly to terror strikes, thereby lacking in both consistency and commitment. Second, and more importantly, Pakistan’s responses thereafter of supporting insurgency in Kashmir, aiding infiltration across the border, and allegedly supporting attacks on the Indian army convoys and bases continued without much reaction from New Delhi. This has led to a visible lack of credibility on New Delhi’s part which makes one wonder whether, bereft of domestic political uses, there was any strategic planning behind the September operation. By all accounts, India’s national security environment is fraught today. Terror attacks in Kashmir continue to break the calm. Consider Gen. Anbu remarks: “Large number of terrorist camps and launch pads exist across south and north of Pir Panjal, they have not decreased… Launch pads and terrorist camps have increased since last year.” Let’s also look at some figures from J&K. Credible media reports show that 110 militants, and 38 army personnel were killed between January and September 2016 (i.e. prior to the surgical strikes). However, since the surgical strikes, at least 178 militants and 69 Army personnel have been killed. Forty-four army personnel were killed between January and September this year, compared to 38 last year between January and September (including those killed in the Uri Army base attack). One might argue that the terrorist casualties have also gone up. While that is true, more militants killed can be a barometer of the level of militancy too. Surgical strikes, then, may have been a tactical victory for New Delhi, but its strategic value is far from settled.

The big picture

With two hostile neighbours on either side, terror attacks against India on the rise, and the South Asian neighbourhood unsure of India’s leadership any more, New Delhi has a lot to be concerned about the continuation of its pivotal position in the region and the nature of its future engagement with it. The events since September last year have further contributed to South Asia’s regional ‘insecurity complex’. For a country that has traditionally been the regional stabiliser, New Delhi seems to be quickly embracing the virtues of geopolitical revisionism. The costs of aggression, self-imposed regional exclusion and an absence of strategic altruism are bound to become starker sooner or later.


1) Watershed

Meaning: An event or period marking a turning point in a situation.

Example: “these works were a watershed in the history of music”

2) Predominant

Meaning: Present as the strongest or main element; having or exerting control or power.

Example: “the predominant political forces”

Synonyms: Main, Dominant

Antonyms: Subsidiary, Minor

3) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: “there is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed”

Synonyms: Agreement, Concord

Antonyms: Disagreement

4) Pragmatism

Meaning: A pragmatic attitude or policy.

Example: “ideology had been tempered with pragmatism”

5) Embodied

Meaning: Be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling); include or contain (something) as a constituent part.

Example: “a national team that embodies competitive spirit and skill”

Synonyms: Manifest, Represent

6) Assiduously

Meaning: With great care and perseverance.

Example: “leaders worked assiduously to hammer out an action plan”

7) Coalition

Meaning: A temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government.

Example: “a coalition between Liberals and Conservatives”

Synonyms: Alliance, Union

8) Pandering

Meaning: Gratify or indulge (an immoral or distasteful desire or taste or a person with such a desire or taste).

Example: “newspapers are pandering to people’s baser instincts”

Synonyms: Indulge, Satisfy

9) Incumbent

Meaning: (of an official or regime) currently holding office.

Example: “the incumbent President was defeated”

Synonyms: Current, Existing

Antonyms: Past, Future

10) Perception

Meaning: Awareness of something through the senses.

Example: “the perception of pain”

Synonyms: Discernment, Appreciation

11) Archrivals

Meaning: The chief rival of a person, team, or organization.

12) Blurred

Meaning: Unable to see or be seen clearly; Make or become unclear or less distinct.

Example: “the blurred distinctions between childhood and adulthood”

Synonyms: Unfocused, Not clear

Antonyms: Clear

13) Speculation

Meaning: The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.

Example: “there has been widespread speculation that he plans to quit”

Synonyms: Supposition, Conjecture

14) Longevity

Meaning: Long existence or service.

Example: “her longevity in office now appeared as a handicap to the party”

15) Breached

Meaning: Break or fail to observe (a law, agreement, or code of conduct).

Example: “these outside bodies are bootlegging albums and breaching copyright”

Synonyms: Break, Violate

16) Rapprochement

Meaning: (especially in international affairs) an establishment or resumption of harmonious relations.

Example: “there were signs of a growing rapprochement between the two countries”

17) Acrimonious

Meaning: (typically of speech or discussion) angry and bitter.

Example: “an acrimonious dispute about wages”

Synonyms: Caustic, Rancorous

18) Foremost

Meaning: Most prominent in rank, importance, or position.

Example: “one of the foremost art collectors of his day”

Synonyms: Leading, Premier

Antonyms: Minor

19) Embattled

Meaning: Having a lot of problems or difficulties.

Example: An embattled government.

Synonyms: Creek

20) Hostility

Meaning: Hostile behaviour; unfriendliness or opposition.

Example: “their hostility to all outsiders”

Synonyms: Malice, Unkindness

Antonyms: Friendliness, Approval

21) Adverse

Meaning: Preventing success or development; harmful; unfavourable.

Example: “taxes are having an adverse effect on production”

Synonyms: Unfavourable, Inauspicious

Antonyms: Favourable, Beneficial

22) Deterrence

Meaning: The action or the fact of deterring people from doing something.

Example: They believed in the principle of nuclear deterrence.

Synonyms: Avert, Avoidable

23) Retaliation

Meaning: The action of returning a military attack; counter-attack.

Example: “the bombings are believed to be in retaliation for the trial of 15 suspects”

Synonyms: Revenge, Retribution

24) Bluff

Meaning: An attempt to deceive someone into believing that one can or is going to do something.

Example: “the offer was denounced as a bluff”

Synonyms: Deception, Pretence

25) Recurrent

Meaning: Occurring often or repeatedly.

Example: “she had a recurrent dream about falling”

Synonyms: Repeated, Repetitive

Antonyms: isolated, Unique

26) Ceasefire

Meaning: A temporary suspension of fighting; a truce.

Example: “the latest ceasefire seems to be holding”

Synonyms: Demilitarize, Truce

27) Worrisome

Meaning: Causing anxiety or concern.

Example: “a worrisome problem”

Synonyms: Worrying, Daunting

28) Tendency

Meaning: An inclination towards a particular characteristic or type of behavior; a group within a larger political party or movement.

Example: “for students, there is a tendency to socialize in the evenings”

Synonyms: Proclivity, Inclination and Movement

29) Disastrous

Meaning: Causing great damage.

Example: “a disastrous fire swept through the museum”

Synonyms: Calamitous, Tragic

Antonyms: Successful, Fortune

30) Conceptual

Meaning: Based on ideas or principles.

Example: The main weakness of the proposal is conceptual.

Synonyms: Logic, Rational

31) Consistency

Meaning: Consistent behaviour or treatment.

Example: “the consistency of measurement techniques”

Synonyms: Stability, Regularity

Antonyms: Inconsistency

32) Infiltration

Meaning: The action of entering or gaining access to an organization or place surreptitiously, especially in order to acquire secret information or cause damage.

Example: “the army fenced parts of the border in an effort to stop militant infiltration”

33) Credibility

Meaning: The quality of being trusted and believed in.

Example: “the government’s loss of credibility”

Synonyms: Reliability, Trustworthiness

34) Barometer

Meaning: Something which reflects changes in circumstances or opinions.

Example: “furniture is a barometer of changing tastes”

35) Pivotal

Meaning: Of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.

Example: “Japan’s pivotal role in the world economy”

Synonyms: Crucial, Focal

36) Embracing

Meaning: Accept (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically.

Example: “besides traditional methods, artists are embracing new technology”

Synonyms: Accept, Adopt

Antonyms: Reject

37) Revisionism

Meaning: The theory or practice of revising one’s attitude to a previously accepted situation or point of view.

Example: “reconsideration of such figures is not just an attempt at revisionism”

38) Aggression

Meaning: Feelings of anger or antipathy resulting in hostile or violent behaviour; readiness to attack or confront.

Example: “his chin was jutting with aggression”

Synonyms: Hostility, Aggressiveness

Antonyms: Meekness

39) Altruism

Meaning: Disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

Example: “some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism”

Synonyms: Self-denial, Selflessness

Antonyms: Selfishness

40) Starker

Meaning: Unpleasantly or sharply clear; severe or bare in appearance or outline.

Example: “his position is in stark contrast to that of Curran”; “the ridge formed a stark silhouette against the sky”

Synonyms: Blunt, Simple and Evident

Antonyms: Disguised, Indistinct

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